Federal prosecutors say a Treasure Valley pain doctor kept sloppy records that left thousands of regulated pills unaccounted for. But the doctor says he is a victim of an employee who stole the drugs.
A lawsuit filed Wednesday by U.S. Attorney Wendy J. Olson’s office against James Hurd Morland, a pain medicine specialist, could result in as much as $615,000 in penalties. Morland owned the Meridian Pain Center and Swift RX, through which he both prescribed and filled prescriptions for drugs including the powerful opioid hydrocodone and carisoprodol (also known as Soma), a muscle relaxant.
Federal law requires that doctors who dispense certain drugs store them securely and maintain careful records to assure that the drugs are not distributed illegally.
Morland ordered the most hydrocodone of any sole practitioner in Idaho in 2014 and 2015, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit involves drugs his business handled between November 2013 and August 2015.
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But federal prosecutors learned of the missing pills only after Morland called to report them. His lawyer said an employee had been doctoring the clinic’s books and stealing the drugs that disappeared.
“What really struck me in reading the complaint is there is absolutely no allegation of public harm, or that he willfully violated this statute, and it does seem to be bookkeeping errors,” said Morland’s attorney, Deborah Ferguson.
“He was himself a victim of employee theft — a long-term employee he trusted who, unfortunately, behaved very dishonestly,” Ferguson said, adding that Morland was “deeply disturbed and saddened” by the incident.
Morland noticed a discrepancy in his clinic’s records in August 2015 and immediately asked the employee about it, Ferguson said.
When the employee could not explain why more than 300 bottles of drugs were missing, Morland contacted law enforcement to report the theft, his lawyer said. The employee did not return to work.
The Drug Enforcement Administration investigated. In the process, the DEA discovered lax record-keeping, patient records in disarray, and some files incomplete or nonexistent. “Finally, over 80 files had missing prescriptions,” the lawsuit said.
Also, Morland allowed drugs to be left out instead of stored in a safe and failed to properly train or supervise employees. One employee hid drugs behind the door of a desk, the lawsuit said.
When the DEA pieced together records from Morland’s suppliers and the clinic’s inventory and records, investigators determined that Morland was short about 13,950 hydrocodone tablets and had “an overage” of 7,560 hydrocodone tablets of a different strength. He also was short 7,020 carisoprodol tablets.
The complaint lists 51 violations:
▪ 38 claims of failure to make and keep accurate records of controlled substances received, with a penalty of up to $10,000 per violation.
▪ Seven claims of improper dispensing or record keeping, with a maximum penalty of $10,000 or $25,000 each, depending on the violation.;
▪ Five claims of failure to conduct and complete biennial inventories, at up to $10,000 each.
▪ One claim of failure to notify the DEA on a timely basis about the missing drugs.
Morland noticed the missing drugs on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, and notified police and the DEA the following Tuesday, the lawsuit said.
Ferguson said Morland was an advocate for responsible use of narcotics and was among the first doctors in Idaho to participate in the prescription drug monitoring program, a database that allows prescribers and pharmacists to more easily spot when a patient may be abusing or diverting drugs.
Morland has been licensed since 1995 by the Idaho Board of Medicine. However, he retired last May, according to an employee at the pain clinic on East Overland Road that took over for Morland and took on his patients.
Morland ran for public office several years ago. He was the Republican candidate against Democrat Cherie Buckner-Webb in the 2010 race for the Idaho House in Boise’s District 19. He received 31.6 percent of the vote.